Lent 1C

Thoughts on Today’s Lessons for Sunday, Feb. 17, 2013.

Reproduction of Temptation of Jesus Christ from the Book of Kells

Reproduction of Temptation of Jesus Christ from the Book of Kells

First Reading: Deuteronomy 26:1-11
This ancient harvest prayer, offering a tithe of the first fruits of harvest in gratitude for God’s abundance, outlines God’s covenant with the people, a covenant that comes down to us in the Gospel: We are called to love God and our neighbor and to care for the stranger, the poor, the weak and the afflicted. As a Lenten practice, we might consider expressing our penitence and hope in acts of kindness and in community service.

Psalm 91
At first glance today’s psalm seems to offer us simple reassurance: When we are in trouble, if we trust in God, God will protect us. But as abundant as God’s love may be, the Psalmist sings of a covenant, an agreement between God and God’s people: We’re expected to love God, to put our trust in God, to make God our refuge and dwelling-place. Be aware, too, that God will be with us when we encounter lions and serpents, but we will still encounter them!

Second Reading: Romans 10:8b-13
Paul’s pastoral advice to the Romans mirrors today’s other readings. As the Psalmist advises us to trust in God to gain protection, Paul calls on us to accept Jesus and the Resurrection in order to be saved. The Old Testament reading reminds us that our spiritual ancestors were foreigners, and Paul reminds us that there is no Jew or Greek, no insider or outsider in the God of all.

Gospel: Luke 4:1-13
Jesus fasted in the desert for 40 days, a Gospel message with echoes in the 40 days of Lent. Fresh from his encounter with John the Baptist in the Jordan, Jesus meets temptation while fasting in the wilderness. Satan tempts him, first with food, then with visions of power and glory, if only he would turn from God. But Jesus stands firm, and, in the very next verses after these, goes straight to the synagogue to proclaim good news to the poor, release to the captives, sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed. Let’s remember Jesus’ call as we live into the 40 days of Lent.

Last Epiphany C/Transfiguration

Thoughts on Today’s Lessons for Sunday, Feb. 10, 2013.

The Transfiguration of Jesus

The Transfiguration

First Reading: Exodus 34:29-35
Radiant light shines through today’s readings, and Moses appears in all of them. But look deeper, and we find a consistent emphasis on God’s covenant, which since Moses’ time has called the people to love God and follow God’s commandments. But here’s a twist: This was their second chance! The first time Moses brought the commandments down the mountain, his face shining with the reflected glory of God, he found them worshipping a golden calf, and he smashed the tablets in anger. Then the people repented, God forgave them and gave them another chance. God gives us another chance every time we sin and turn back, again and again and again.

Psalm 99
This mighty ancient hymn envisions God as a powerful king receiving loud chants of praise. In the temple in Jerusalem, two cherubim – scary angels depicted as lions with wings and human faces – were placed atop the Ark of the Covenant to serve as God’s throne. The Psalmist understands God as no petty tyrant but a mighty ruler who demands justice. Throughout the bible, the Israelites got in trouble every time they forgot their covenant call to love their neighbors and care for the widow, the orphan and the stranger.

Second Reading: 2 Corinthians 3:12 – 4:2
In this letter to his congregation at Corinth, Paul recalls the reading about Moses with his shining face, but he takes the image of the veil that Moses used to conceal his Godly glow, and turns it around to express the idea that Jesus “unveils” God’s covenant in all its shining glory. God’s light can transform us. It inspires us to take the message of the Gospels to the world.

Gospel: Luke 9:28-36, 37-43a
As we come to the Gospel through the prior readings, suddenly we see it anew. Peter, John and James, mouths dropping in awe, see Jesus with Moses and Elijah, but now Jesus, not Moses, is the shining one, his face and clothing aglow as he is transfigured in God’s light and voice. God’s voice declares Jesus his son and chosen One. “Listen to him,” booms the divine voice, a command that rings down the ages to all generations. How do we listen for Jesus’ voice? What do we hear?

Epiphany 4C

Thoughts on Today’s Lessons for Sunday, Feb. 3, 2013.

The Prophet Jeremiah, Roman School Fresco, c 1120.

The Prophet Jeremiah, Roman School Fresco, c 1120.

First Reading: Jeremiah 1:4-10
If not us, then who? If not now, when? This call to mission goes back to Rabbi Hillel, not long before Jesus’s time. We hear it echoed in today’s readings, beginning with Jeremiah, another Old Testament prophet who foresaw destruction and exile coming for Israel because the people had forgotten their covenant to follow God’s way. Jeremiah thought he was too young for such a chore, and feared his message would anger his hearers. But God put words in his mouth and strength in his spine and sent him out. How do we listen for God’s call? Do we act in fear or trust?

Psalm 71:1-6
The full psalm from which today’s verses are taken is thought to represent the view of a poet-elder, looking back over life and singing thanks for God’s constant presence and protection. We hear cries for God’s help: “Deliver me! Rescue me! Listen! Save me!” And then, trust in God’s strength gives us hope. Sturdy rock and refuge and fortress; trustworthy rescuer and protector. Praise God, the Psalmist sings, for God has been there since the beginning.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 13:1-13
Here is Paul’s familiar celebration of love! Many of us think of this as a wedding reading, but it might surprise you to know that Paul is not speaking of romantic love but another emotion, translated from a different Greek word (“agape”). This is the gentle but powerful love that binds us all as worshipers in Christian community, giving us the strength to carry out God’s work together. Look around in church today. Think about the challenges we face. Then think about this reading again.

Gospel: Luke 4:21-30
We pick up right where we left off last week in Luke’s Gospel, with Jesus in his home-town synagogue. At first he wins the people’s applause, but then he gets himself in trouble right away, reminding them that Scripture’s call is to care for widows, lepers, outsiders. Jesus will go to “the least of these,” not just hang out comfortably with his friends and neighbors. Echoing Jeremiah’s plight, Jesus gets an angry, threatening response. But this doesn’t turn him from God’s call.

Epiphany 3C

Thoughts on Today’s Lessons for Sunday, Jan. 27, 2013.

Jesus in the Synagogue

Jesus in the Synagogue

First Reading: Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10
Jerusalem and the temple are still under reconstruction after the return from exile in Babylon. We hear from the “minor” prophet Nehemiah, who – like the priest and prophet Ezra – is thought to have been sent from Persia to help the Israelites re-settle in Jerusalem. It is fascinating to see echoes of the ancients with our own Sunday liturgy: The people stand, pray, bow, hear the Bible reading and something like a sermon, then joyfully disperse to celebrate their Sabbath.

Psalm 19
First in today’s Psalm, we sing the glory of God. Then we sing the glory of God’s law, which the Psalmist understood as the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament that set out God’s covenant with the people: the holy scrolls that the scribe Ezra read to the community in the first reading. The heavens and the skies themselves pour out the glory of God and of God’s work in the law.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a
Following last Sunday’s declaration that every member has a role in the church, Paul now likens the people of Corinth – and all of us – to the body of the risen Christ in the world. All the parts of the body are necessary. All have to work together. The eye, the hand, the ear, the leg … none can go it alone. What works for our bodies works for our church: We’re all in this together, and we need and respect one another!

Gospel: Luke 4:14-21
Jesus begins his public ministry in the synagogue, reading from the Prophet Isaiah. The verse he chooses makes a powerful statement: He claims as his own the call to bring good news to the poor … proclaim release to the captives … give sight to the blind and freedom to the oppressed. If this sounds familiar, it should! This is the message that Jesus preached, the way that he told his people to bring in God’s kingdom on earth. And it sounds a lot like the Magnificat, the song of joy that his mother, Mary, sang, when she learned of his coming birth. When we act as Jesus’s hands in the body of Christ, this is the work we are called to do.

Epiphany 2C

Thoughts on Today’s Lessons for Sunday, Jan. 20, 2013.

The wedding feast at Cana

The wedding feast at Cana

First Reading: Isaiah 62:1-5
Israel has returned from exile to Jerusalem, to Mount Zion, site of the temple. But the joyous celebration of return is over now, and the people recognize that a long, hard time of rebuilding lies ahead. “I will not keep silent … I will not rest,” pledges the prophet, promising to continue calling on God’s help until the temple and the city are rebuilt. God delights in the people and the land like a bridegroom and will bring the people joy. Listen for another story of God blessing a new marriage in today’s Gospel.

Psalm 36:5-10
The Psalm picks up in the middle of a song, and to this point its narrative has been discouraging. Just before today’s verses, the Psalmist – perhaps like Isaiah looking at the hard work to be done on Mount Zion – has sung of being surrounded by wicked and deceitful people who fear neither God nor evil. But now the song turns to chords of hope. In contrast to human wickedness, God showers us with amazing grace and abundant love. God’s protection and faithfulness come to us all, in that day and in this day.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 12:1-11
The Christian community at Corinth, in Greece, probably consisted of fewer than 100 people, about the size of an average Episcopal church; but it had plenty of issues with differences of opinion, arguments and even cliques. In this pastoral letter sent to them from far away, Paul reminds the congregation that every member is blessed with God’s grace; every member has a role in bringing the good news of Jesus to the world.

Gospel: John 2:1-11
John paints a lovely picture of Jesus at a wedding feast, where the wine is flowing so freely that the host’s supplies soon run dry. When his mother calls him to save the situation, he complies, revealing new wine that’s even better than the old. There’s plenty of symbolism to work with here, but I like the underlying story: Jesus’s first miracle, according to John, occurs at a social event of table fellowship, enjoying good food and good drink with family and friends.

Epiphany 1C/Baptism of Our Lord

Thoughts on Today’s Lessons for Sunday, Jan. 13, 2013.

Baptism of Christ

Baptism of Christ

First Reading: Isaiah 43:1-7
Both our Old Testament readings invoke images of water today as we celebrate the baptism of Jesus. Isaiah prophesies that the Israelites in exile will return to Jerusalem, kept safe by God through fire and water. In Baptism we give thanks for the gift of the water over which the Holy Spirit moved in creating the world, through which God led Israel out of bondage; in which Jesus received John’s baptism, and in which we are reborn though baptism in Christ.

Psalm 29
In today’s psalm, a thundering temple hymn, the faithful sing of God’s power as seen in a great storm. Thunder and lightning, wind and noise, flashing fire and mighty winds that shake the earth and topple trees: But these are not things to fear. They are signs of the mighty power and majesty of God. As the storm comes to a close, we are left with God’s promises of strength and peace. We share in these gifts through our baptism.

Second Reading: Acts 8:14-17
The Acts of the Apostles, a sequel to Luke’s Gospel, tells the exciting story of the apostles and Paul taking the new church across the ancient Mediterranean, spreading the Good News to both Jews and Gentiles. In today’s short reading we get a glimpse of Peter and John baptizing new Christians in Samaria. Remember that the Samaritans were longtime enemies of the Jews (which is why the Good Samaritan was so surprising), but now the apostles venture boldly out, not just staying safely among “their kind.”

Gospel: Luke 3:15-17, 21-22
In Luke’s account of Jesus’s baptism, he shows us images of water and fire that seem to echo what we heard in the readings from Isaiah and Psalms. The people had wondered if John the Baptist was the Messiah, but John told them no: The one who is coming – Jesus – is far more powerful than he. Then today’s reading skips three verses in which Herod put John in prison. When we return, Jesus has been baptized, the Holy Spirit appeared as a dove, and God’s voice from heaven announced that Jesus is God’s son. Let’s remember today that as baptized Christians we too are sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own for ever.

The Epiphany

Thoughts on Today’s Lessons for Sunday, Jan. 6, 2013.

Adoration of the Magi

Adoration of the Magi

First Reading: Isaiah 60:1-6
God’s light dawns like a new day, and a virtual blanket of camels bearing gifts from surrounding kingdoms covers the nation’s earth as they trek toward Jerusalem. This song, concluding the prophecies of Isaiah, celebrated Israel’s return after years of exile. Now images of kings bearing gifts of gold and frankincense speak to us as Christians, too, as we celebrate Epiphany. What gifts can we bring to the Christ child?

Psalm 72
Today’s Psalm, too, attributed by tradition to King Solomon, celebrates Israel’s time of glory with images of kings of all nations bearing gifts. With God’s blessing, the Psalmist exults, Israel’s king earns the service of all nations. But with this glory comes an important duty to be righteous and just. The king “delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.” May we, too, remember to have pity on the weak and the needy, and to stand up against oppression and violence.

Second Reading: Ephesians 3:1-12
Biblical scholars (and seminarians!) debate whether the letter to the people of Ephesus, on the western coast of what is now Turkey, was actually written by Paul or by a later follower, or even if it was written to the church in Ephesus or to a broader audience of Christians. The message in these verses, though, clearly echoes two of Paul’s consistent themes: The Gentiles, and thus all humankind, are included in God’s chosen people; and it’s up to all of us as Christ’s body on earth to make God’s wisdom known.

Gospel: Matthew 2:1-12
“We three kings of Orient are …” Everyone loves this traditional carol of Christmas and Epiphany. Surely we all remember the familiar story of the wise men from the East, even if it might startle us a little to realize that Matthew doesn’t actually say there were three of them, nor that they were kings. They came, following a star; they bore gifts, they knelt and paid homage to baby Jesus as if he were a king … and then they thwarted evil Herod’s plan by heading home by another road. Can we listen for God’s voice in our lives? How will you follow your star?

Christmas 1

Thoughts on Today’s Lessons for Sunday, Dec. 30, 2012.

"In the beginning was the Word"

“In the beginning was the Word”

First Reading: Isaiah 61:10-62:3
The prophet Isaiah sings of joy and exultation in this week’s reading. The book of Isaiah, one of the major prophets, is divided into three parts that speak of the times before, during and after Israel’s exile in Babylon. These verses reflect the people’s return to Jerusalem with joy and hope that God will restore the city and the temple. As we celebrate the Incarnation now in Christmastide, we too pray that God’s righteousness and justice will spring up like a garden in the world.

Psalm 147:13-21
Here is one of the final group of songs that ends the book of Psalms with triumphant praise. Echoing the reading from Isaiah, it sings of gratitude for God’s protection over Jerusalem and its temple, and acknowledges God’s reign over all humankind. As we pray in this chilly winter season, we can appreciate the power of God’s word to melt the snow and frost, of God’s spirit to make the waters flow.

Second Reading: Galatians 3:23-25; 4:4-7
Paul’s letter to the people of Galatia, in what is now Turkey, gives us a glimpse of the early church when Christianity and Judaism were separating. Paul has heard that other evangelists came to Galatia after him and told its Gentile converts that they must follow Jewish law in order to be Christian. Paul reassures the Galatians that God’s spirit comes to them – as it comes to all Christians – directly through Jesus and gives us all we need to grow into spiritual adulthood.

Gospel: John 1:1-18
The words that open John’s Gospel are so familiar that we may feel we know them, but it takes thought to discern their meaning. The book begins with the same words that begin the Bible in Genesis: “In the beginning.” This is no coincidence. John wants us to know that the same Word of God that brought the world into being now comes as Jesus to bring us the light through which we can see God. Fully human now, but ever and always fully divine, the Word was with God, and now lives among us. And, the verses tell us, John the Baptist was sent ahead as witness to tell the world.

Advent 4C

Thoughts on Today’s Lessons for Sunday, Dec. 23, 2012.

These readings are scheduled for the 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Eucharist services at St. Matthew’s. At the 10 a.m. Eucharist, we will have a traditional service of Lessons and Carols. Come, join us at any service: Everyone is welcome here, no matter who you are or where you are on your spiritual journey.

The Magnificat, the Song of Mary.

The Magnificat, the Song of Mary.

First Reading: Micah 5:2-5a
Micah, one of the earliest Old Testament prophets, warned the people of Jerusalem that their injustices against the weak and the poor would bring down God’s wrath. Having foretold the destruction of the city by the Assyrians, he promises that a new ruler would come from the village of Bethlehem – the birthplace of King David – to restore peace to the surviving remnant. Christians read this as a promise of Jesus as Messiah, but its broader message tells us that God desires justice and will reward righteousness with peace.

Canticle 15 (Luke 1:46b-55)
Today we sing the Magnificat, the song of Mary, who celebrates her coming child, Jesus, the son of a powerful and merciful God who loves us and calls us to acts of mercy and justice.

Second Reading: Hebrews 10:5-10
The Letter to the Hebrews, modern biblical scholars say, probably originates from the early 100s, after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D., when Christianity was separating from rabbinical Judaism. Perhaps intended to reach backsliding Christian Jews, it seems to suggest that God abolished the “empty” sacrifices of the Jewish Temple, replacing them with Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. In modern times, especially after the Holocaust, we should try to avoid this view of Judaism as “abolished,” hearing instead the hopeful message that God’s promise to Israel at Sinai continues in us, the body of Christ, through Jesus’ incarnation, the Christmas miracle.

Gospel: Luke 1:39-45
This lovely short reading in Luke comes immediately before the Magnificat, the Song of Mary, which we heard earlier. Here we are told of Mary’s visit to her much older cousin Elizabeth. Both women are pregnant – Elizabeth with John, Mary with Jesus – and both conceived in miraculous ways, visited by angels with the news that they would give birth. When the women meet, Elizabeth feels her child leap in her womb with what she perceives as joy. Can we leap with joy as we prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus at Christmas time?

Advent 3C

Thoughts on Today’s Lessons for Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012.

A medieval rendering of the Prophet Zephaniah

A medieval rendering of the Prophet Zephaniah

First Reading: Zephaniah 3:14-20
This week we light the pink candle on our Advent wreath, marking Rose Sunday or Gaudete (“Rejoice”) Sunday. Today’s readings call us to be joyful. Zephanaiah, a minor prophet who came before Isaiah and Jeremiah, prophesied of Jerusalem’s coming destruction, but now he promises that God will bring the righteous people home from the coming exile. God will restore their fortunes and their joy.

Canticle 9 (Isaiah 12:2-6)
Remember last summer’s drought that stunted corn crops and frightened farmers? Drought is serious business, even nowadays. In biblical times, drought meant life or death. Isaiah, the major prophet of Israel’s destruction, exile and return, knowing that water is one of the most important things that God gives us, tells us to thank God with joy when we draw precious, life-giving water from the springs of salvation. For what are we grateful today?

Second Reading: Philippians 4:4-7
In this short reading, Paul tells the people of Philippi to rejoice, for the Lord is near. Pray and give thanks, he advises, even in a difficult time, and “the peace of God, which passes all understanding” will fill their hearts and minds. In our world of stress and tension, what a blessing it is to enjoy a moment of peace. Can we imagine God’s peace, so wonderful that we can’t even comprehend it?

Gospel: Luke 3:7-18
Our Advent Gospel continues today with John the Baptist. The long-haired, ranting prophet, preaching and baptizing in the desert, declares that he is not the Messiah but prophesies that one more powerful (Jesus, even if John doesn’t know it yet, and who is also, according to Luke, John’s cousin) is coming to baptize with the Holy Spirit. The people ask what they should do, and John tells them: Share your clothing and your food with those who have none. Don’t cheat. Don’t be selfish! Soon Jesus will call us in a similar way: “I was hungry, and you gave me food … “